Biomarkers spot hep C liver disease

Fibrotic diseases are areas of unmet need, and liver fibrosis cases are increasing, especially those related to chronic hepatitis C infection and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Diagnosis of liver fibrosis is invasive, requiring liver biopsies, which are costly, cause severe pain in 40% of patients, and give rise to up to 20% false negatives. Researchers from the University of Oxford and the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford (U.K.) have found a panel of biomarkers that could reduce or even eliminate the need for tissue sampling in liver disease caused by hepatitis C.

Around 3% of the world's population, or more than 170 million people, are infected with the hepatitis C virus, and this is one of the main causes of liver fibrosis. There are a number of biomarkers available that can differentiate between healthy tissue and advanced fibrosis and cirrhosis, but according to the authors of the paper in PLOS One, these struggle to identify the stages in between.

The researchers used proteomics techniques to find 20 new biomarkers in the plasma of patients with liver cirrhosis caused by hepatitis C virus infection. Five of these changed consistently with increasing fibrosis stage, so they may be able to identify the stages between health and advanced disease.

The discovery of blood based biomarkers could make the identification of liver fibrosis quicker, easier, less unpleasant and less costly and could potentially help doctors to begin treatment earlier as well, avoiding the progression of hepatitis C virus-induced liver fibrosis to cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. According to the researchers, these biomarkers could also be used to create a scoring system to support the assessment of hepatic scarring to monitor therapy, as well as to assess the efficacy of experimental drugs in clinical trials.

- see the paper in PLOS One